Generation 40s – 四十世代

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一個年代就在一個星期裏匆匆終結

明報
筆陣
2018-03-21
蔡子強

上星期本港發生了連串標誌性大事:先是上周日民主派在回歸後立法會補選中首嘗敗績;之後是周三《壹週刊》紙版從此停刊;最後是周五李嘉誠宣布退休。短短一個星期內,本港政治、文化、經濟同時宣告結束了一個年代。這3件看似風馬牛不相及的事,其實有着內在連繫的脈絡。

政治、文化、經濟同時結束了一個年代

1979年時任港督麥理浩訪華並見鄧小平,掀開中英就香港前途問題談判序幕。最後以英國全面讓步和妥協告終,並於1984年簽署《中英聯合聲明》。就在英國部署撤退、中國還未接管的這十多二十年間,舊有以港英勢力為主的政經秩序瀕臨瓦解,而新的以中國勢力為主的政經秩序又未建立,於是無論政治、經濟、文化都出現了一個真空期,讓恍如初生之犢、躍躍欲試的土產力量乘時而起。而1989年六四事件發生,更對這些土產力量起了推波助瀾作用。

常常拿着龍獅旗示威的年輕朋友,有時未免過分天真地把英治時代想像得太過美好,更緬懷八九十年代香港那份活力和自由空氣。其實如果你活得夠長久,就會知道那並非殖民地年代長久的真實,反而只不過是一個舊秩序瓦解、新秩序未建立所釋放出來的空間。

李嘉誠冒起於華資填補英資撤走的大時代

先說經濟。麥理浩訪華後幾個月,香港商界出現了一件劃時代大事,那就是李嘉誠成功收購英資「四大洋行」之一的和黃,象徵本地華資開始敢於挑戰英資老大哥。對港人來說,李無疑代表華人吐氣揚眉,因此在1980年代一些民意調查反映港人普遍視「誠哥」為偶像,甚至因1981年一份洋雜誌的封面,大家從此暱稱李為「超人」。其實李收購和黃背後代表一個大時代的開始,對於這個收購,港英政府不單沒有阻撓,甚至由匯豐出手幫助融資。之後另一「四大洋行」怡和在1983年遷冊,英資撤出香港之勢日益明顯。「四大地產商」逐漸取代「四大洋行」。

當時中國文革剛結束,於1978年開始改革開放,百廢待興自顧不暇,需要從香港引入資金在國內投資,遑論有錢可填補英資撤出留下的真空,於是只有借助本地華資財團穩住香港,李成了當中表表者。舉個例:中方在1985年成立基本法起草委員會,港方委員中除了一些老牌愛國資本家如霍英東、安子介之外,非紅色背景的資本家就只有李嘉誠、包玉剛和李國寶。從中可見中方對其器重。

到1989年六四事件後中國內外交困、外資大舉撤出,此時李卻反其道而行大舉投資內地,雪中送炭,自此進一步得北京器重。李不單在1986及1990年兩次得鄧小平單獨見面的禮遇,之後江澤民在1997、1998、2001年訪港,都下榻在李旗下的海逸酒店,並單獨與李父子共晉早餐;而胡錦濤於2009年出席深圳慶典時也特別與李單獨會面近10分鐘。隨着北京器重,李於香港不單在經濟上,在政治上也呼風喚雨,他支持的董建華和曾蔭權都先後當上特首。

新的大時代是紅色資本取代本地華資

但梁振英是個轉捩點。雖然李公開支持唐英年,但最後北京終究還是揀了梁振英當特首。從此首富與梁不咬弦的傳聞便不絕如縷,至低限度李便一次都沒有公開挺梁,而梁在任內也着力洗脫與地產商「官商勾結」的公眾印象,甚至有本地華資大地產商被捕入獄,震驚商界。另一方面李與北京關係亦大不如前,不單未見習近平與他單獨會面,更發生了2015年新華社旗下「瞭望智庫」一名研究員發表了題為〈別讓李嘉誠跑了〉的文章,批評李在過去20年投資內地獲得財富後「不宜想走就走」。事件引來中港兩地極大迴響,半個月後李更打破沉默發表聲明反駁,直指一些批評他的文章「令人不寒而慄」。從此李是否撤資便久不久會成為城中熱話。

其實李在政治影響力上的從起到跌,與其說是個人因素,不如說是與香港宏觀經濟形勢和實力同步。如果本地華資取代英資是香港一個大時代,那麼另一個大時代就是紅色資本取代本地華資。今天市值最大、股票市場交易最暢旺的再不是「四大地產商」的股票,而是H股、紅籌等紅色資本。試問在這樣的環境下本地華資商人還可以如何有底氣?在政商上又如何有討價還價能力?也只能乖乖接受大國崛起後北京的「以我為主」。

上星期李退休了,很多記者問,他的兒子或其他港人能否成為另一個李嘉誠?我的答案相當悲觀:這無關個人才智,而是因為香港已經由一個大時代進入了另一個大時代,時不予我。

港英還政於民 造就民主派冒起填補政治真空

如果1980年代是英國部署撤出香港的一個大時代,當然不會只在經濟上,也會在政治上。

1982年港英政府開放區議會讓部分議席由直選產生,1984年推出《代議政制綠皮書》討論還政於民,1985年開放立法局讓部分議席由功能組別和間選產生,都是趕在中方勢力進駐前,搶先讓本地政治精英逐步填補港英撤走後留下的政治真空。

但最大衝擊還是來自六四,那是香港史上最大規模一次政治動員,不單有百萬人上街,且不分民主建制、左中右、「藍絲黃絲」,全港幾乎敵愾同仇。在這個環境下催生了支聯會及稍後的民主派組黨,並且乘着港人因六四而對中國及共產政權的恐懼和排斥,讓民主派在往後直選中摧枯拉朽,以至發展出後來所謂「六四黃金比例」,在立法會直選中取得近六成票。

「習權年代」進一步擠壓本地政治空間

但仗賴北京,本地建制派財雄勢大,以時間換取空間逐步建立了龐大選舉機器,技巧亦愈告成熟和得心應手,「六四比例」逐漸被打破。近兩屆立法會選舉民主派只能獲五成半選票,苦苦支撐、搖搖欲墜。

歷時79天的雨傘運動無功而還,費盡九牛二虎之力催谷出破紀錄新高投票率而選出來的立法會議員又被政府輕易DQ(取消資格),北京對港政策愈來愈「以我為主」,如今更強調「全面管治權」,這都讓很多港人氣餒、心灰意冷。上周日補選的極低投票率,人們都提不起勁出來投票,讓民主派在單議席單票制補選中首嘗敗績。

諷刺的是在補選同一天,人大會議通過修憲刪除國家主席「連續任職不得超過兩屆」的任期限制,開啟了「習續無限」的一個新時代,讓習可以在5年後第二度以至之後第三、第四度不斷連任下去。同是1980年代,取消終身制、反對個人崇拜、支持集體領導等的鄧小平的苦心孤詣,從此付諸東流。

香港自1980年代為民主派和反對人士釋放出來的政治空間和能量,從此可能因「習權年代」來臨、港人心死和認命,而被擠壓得早晚點滴不存。

文化上一元取代多元

最後再談文化。「八九六四」對香港的衝擊不單在政治上,也在文化上。正如前述,那是香港史上最大規模一次群眾動員,但結果無情鎮壓讓群眾的投入和熱情落空、讓社會變得鬱結,對權力也變得犬儒和厭惡。於是一種新的批判文化就此誕生,「一刊一報兩支咪」就是在這個年代冒起,而《壹週刊》更是早於《蘋果日報》面世,更締造了全新傳媒文化。那不單是「狗仔隊」,而是反建制、專批判權貴、專揭人瘡疤、專揭露黑暗面,取代以往傳媒的和諧維穩。競爭和影響所及,其他媒體也不能不效法。於是壹傳媒這個「壞孩子」的誕生,旋即顛覆了原本和諧維穩的傳媒生態。而行將撤離的港英政府亦不會插手整治,甚至樂觀其成。

九七後北京逐漸掌控大局,在「入世」後經濟更迅速騰飛。在巨大利益下傳媒逐漸歸隊,更有不少由愛國商人收購。文化上由九七前那短暫10年的百花齊放、百無禁忌,變得禁忌日多、「地雷」處處,由多元變得一元,媒體亦由眾聲喧嘩變成「愛國一言堂」。

《壹週刊》紙版停刊,固然受制於報刊受網絡和社交媒體侵蝕市場的大環境,而老闆在經營上又舉棋不定這些因素所影響;但壹傳媒近年受到巨大政治壓力,不斷被封殺和抽廣告,也是人盡皆知。讓他們由原本全港數一數二最賺錢媒體,印報紙就如印銀紙,變成今天艱苦經營。「壞孩子」《壹週刊》也終於在上周三「入土為安」。

「天朝」秩序終於各自歸位

因此一周內發生3件看似風馬牛不相及的事,其實有內在連繫脈絡,代表了曾因政治巨變而騰出的真空,終於被重新填補,「天朝」下的秩序,終於各自歸位。於是紅色資本取代本地華資、建制派取代民主派、一元和一言堂取代多元和眾聲喧嘩,這也就是香港一個年代結束、一個年代開始的宿命。

中文大學政治與行政學系高級講師

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How Hong Kong’s tax regime short-changes residents by encouraging speculation and evading the city’s funding needs

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-03-01

Stefano Mariani says the missing piece in Hong Kong’s budget is tax reform, as Hongkongers have not made the connection between the city’s ‘simple and low’ tax regime and its housing, infrastructure and retirement protection problems

Wednesday’s budget again raised the vexed question on which the future of our city’s public finances depends: whither tax reform?

The usual array of middle-class tax breaks are beginning to assume the character of cynical bribes. They represent a short-termist approach to public expenditure, the fiscal equivalent of bread and circuses. Because tax is not an electoral issue in Hong Kong, inasmuch as most residents pay no tax at all, it has been difficult for the government to formulate a clear understanding of what tax policy should aim to achieve.

Michael Littlewood, a former professor at the University of Hong Kong, dubbed his study on tax law in Hong Kong “the history of Hong Kong’s troublingly successful tax system”, noting that a combination of low rates and simple tax administration made the jurisdiction especially attractive as an investment hub.

The notion of success, however, is relative and must be measured against prevailing social, economic and cultural priorities. A tax system that worked well in the glory days of frenetic growth in the 70s and 80s is not the tax system that will best serve Hong Kong in the three decades or so leading up to 2047.

Society, and its discontents, have changed. The budget surplus, which is not being put to any apparent gainful use, is in stark contrast to the pauperisation of large cross-sections of the population. But money must be spent in order to spend money: if any part of the surplus is to be applied to social programmes, the physical, human, and administrative infrastructure to bring those programmes into existence and sustain them must first be put in place. That requires an extensive capital outlay and long-term funding commitments.

Our Inland Revenue Ordinance is a creature of the early 20th century and was envisaged by the colonial office as appropriate for a bustling entrepôt colony, not a 21st-century metropolis.

It may be important to keep our tax regime simple and low, but our tax laws must be fit for the purpose. Here, the distinction between tax rates and the structure of the tax legislation is important. If setting the tax rate low were sufficient to attract investment, then Somalia and Yemen should be booming centres of entrepreneurship.

Hong Kong has failed to attract high-value-added, knowledge-based industries to the same extent as Singapore and, increasingly, Shenzhen, not because the tax rates are too high but because the tax system tends to create perverse incentives that oppose the government’s stated aim to diversify the economy and improve quality of life.

Why make a high-risk investment in a tech start-up when there are guaranteed tax-free returns to be gained from speculating in the property market? Why think seriously about tax policy when one can fob off the electorate with a few “sweeteners” and kick the can down the road?

Perhaps the main reason for which there is no grass-roots pressure for tax reform is that voters have not correlated inflated property prices, low-quality housing stock, strained infrastructure and low levels of public pension provision with the structural deficiencies of our tax laws. By not taxing capital gains on real estate, speculation is enabled by allowing raw economic gain from property investment to be collected free of tax, while trading gains from the “real” economy are covered at the full rate of profits tax. Similarly, offshore dividends and capital wealth – for example, residential property that is hoarded and left empty purely for investment purposes – are not taxable. Consequently, we tend to attract rent-seekers, not entrepreneurs.

In January, I drafted a law reform project paper arguing for some modest measures.

First, a capital-gains tax should be introduced on the disposal of residential property which is not the principal residence of the vendor.

Second, a flat annual tax should be levied on the holding of vacant residential property to discourage hoarding and to cool down the rental market.

Third, offshore dividends that are remitted or spent in Hong Kong should be taxed, thereby eliminating the indefensible absurdity whereby the salary of a resident employee is chargeable to salaries tax, but a dividend received by a resident investor from an offshore company is not.

The paper was submitted by Dennis Kwok, a Legislative Council member, to the attention of the financial secretary. The Financial Services and Tax Bureau’s response was non-committal, suggesting that the enactment of the proposed reforms would interfere with its policy of a “simple and low” tax system. But that conclusion does not follow: by expanding the tax base, the government could afford to further decrease headline rates of tax in a bid to support both salaried earners and small businesses, which are among the stated priorities of the financial secretary set forth in his budget speech.

For the government’s facile reasoning on tax reform to be challenged, taxation must become a political issue. Both civil society and Legco members interested in a sustainable future for Hong Kong’s economy have a duty to press the government to explain clearly how it envisages tackling the structural imbalances in Hong Kong’s tax laws and ensure that these begin to reflect the funding needs of the city not as it was, but as we wish it to be.

Stefano Mariani is a lawyer and revenue law specialist, who has published widely in the field of taxation. The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author


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為何要讀大學?

信報
忽然文化
2018年3月3日

占飛

大學一直都是晉身之階,培養精英的場所。在只有少於10%學生可以讀大學的年代,書中的確有黃金屋。大學教育普及化後,大學文憑也隨之貶值,跟幾十年前的中學文憑價值幾乎沒有分別,但一般人依然對大學有過時的憧憬,以為大學畢業就前途似錦。大學生焉能不滿肚怨氣?

美國的佐治美臣大學(George Mason University)經濟學教授布萊恩卡普蘭(Bryan Caplan),是這個制度的成功者。他在初中時已懂得:如何用最少時間溫習他不喜歡的科目,仍然考到A。他在加州大學畢業後,在普林斯頓大學取得博士學位,之後便在佐治美臣大學獲得終身教授職。可是,他繼《理性選民的神話》(The Myth of the Rational Voter)後的著作卻是:《反對教育》(The Case Against Education)。他認為,美國政府每年將GDP 5%投放在公、私營教育上,既浪費公帑,也虛耗學子的光陰。

學位「訊號」理論

卡普蘭的理由是,學生在學校學到的知識,大部分對他們日後毫無幫助,就算是法學院或醫學院的畢業生,工作上應用的知識,都是畢業後邊做邊學得來的。其他文、史、哲或理論科學的學系,更無足論矣!事實是:學生畢業後,就會忘掉90%以上在學校學到的知識。

卡普蘭還說,讀大學最大的作用就是取得文憑。就算一個大學生讀了4年,學問水過鴨背,只要他懂得考試過關,取得文憑,就有機會找到好工作。反之,就算一個學生修讀網上課程,學到知識而沒有文憑,他就無法得到有文憑的畢業生的工作。何以故?因為文憑就是個「訊號」(Signal),表示擁有者有工作能力。實際上,擁有者有沒有工作能力,要上任後才得知。耶魯大學一項研究指出,僱主大概需要3年才能清楚員工的能力和個性。那僱主在面試時如何挑選?最快捷的方法就是靠文憑的「訊號」決定。這就是經濟學家說的「訊號」理論。

大學並非職業訓練學校,學生在大學學到的,不是職場需要的工作技能,只是基礎知識和技能。蘋果教主喬布斯(Steve Jobs)、微軟創辦人比爾蓋茨(Bill Gates)、著名導演史提芬史匹堡(Steven Spielberg)等中途輟學,無阻他們成就大事業。按卡普蘭的估計,大學學位的價值,80%在「訊號」,只有20%是真才實學。

卡普蘭認為,大學文憑送出的「訊號」有三:勤力、堅持以及「合模」(Conformity)。一名大學生不勤力,遇到困難輕易放棄,是很難捱足4年,讀到大學畢業的。一個中途輟學的學生,例如喬布斯、蓋茨和史匹堡,便是不能或不願與社會「合模」的人。不能「合模」的學生,出路就是自行創業。有上述3種性格的大學畢業生,上任後定當較快通過在職培訓學到必要的知識和技能。一個沒有文憑的應徵者,僱主必須花更多時間測試他的知識和技能,亦難以確定他會否成為聽教聽話的員工。現時,不少美國大企業已使用電腦「演算法」初步篩選應徵者。「演算法」憑什麼篩選?不就是文憑麼?

文憑「軍備競賽」

「訊號」是個零和遊戲,即是說,其他應徵者沒有學士文憑而你有,你自然雀屏中選。若然人人都有學士文憑,那你便要有更高學位──碩士或博士──才能中選。於是,大學教育愈普及,學士文憑便愈不值錢。今時今日,無論在美國或香港,均出現文憑的「軍備競賽」。碩士、博士愈來愈多,企業的要求亦愈來愈高。以前只須中學畢業的職位,現時要大學畢業;以前只須學士學位的職位,現時要碩士甚至博士學位。無他,學位愈高,愈表示應徵者具備勤力、堅持和「合模」的性格也!2015年,哈佛商學院一項研究指出,67%的生產主管職位已要求應徵者有學士學位,然而,在職的生產主管只有16%有學士學位。可見,這份工作根本毋須大學畢業也可勝任。

卡普蘭說的文憑「軍備競賽」一旦出現,便形成惡性循環。人人都要讀大學,才能得到以前只須中學畢業的工作,就算花費金錢(甚至借貸)和青春,也要往大學鑽。政府為了順應民意,只好投放更多資源給大學。在霍士電視的訪問中,卡普蘭宣稱,有5%學生讀大學,已能滿足市場對精英的需求。其餘95%學生不如早點入讀職業訓練學校,或進入職場接受在職培訓,對學生及整體社會更有好處。

 


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A few ‘selfish’ ideas for how to spend Hong Kong’s massive budget surplus

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Peter Kammerer says free Wi-fi everywhere, electric buses and a more presentable city are some of the meaningful and relatively easy changes that could be made with the budget surplus to improve quality of life

Hong Kong won’t find out until budget day on Wednesday just how much spare cash Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has to throw around. There are estimates it could be as much as a record HK$180 billion, on top of the trillions already in reserve.

It’s an obscene amount for any government to be sitting on, particularly when it has repeatedly avoided tackling the problems that now have our city veering towards a social crisis. But I’m not about to suggest the funds should be used to provide affordable housing, end poverty, improve the public health and education systems or help the dissatisfied young and elderly; rather, I’m going to put forward some ideas for my own selfish gain.

Mr Chan: I’d like free Wi-fi provided for every corner, nook and cranny of our city. Your boss, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, repeatedly talks about innovation, technology and digital this and that, and this perfectly fits such thinking. Most of us are constantly peering at smartphone screens wherever we go, walking into one another and even putting ourselves in danger at road crossings; with even better connectivity, we could play online games and shop even when in country parks. Maybe all that connectivity would motivate bus companies with poorly developed apps, taxi firms that don’t even have them yet for booking, banks that don’t want to invest in better personal identification systems, and shops reluctant to go online to get their acts together.

I mentioned bus companies; much of our roadside pollution is because of the soot coming from the exhausts of their diesel vehicles. It’s so bad that even though I live on the 10th floor, having a window open for even a few hours leaves a fine layer of black dust coating shelves and, for sure, my lungs. It’s no wonder I get bronchitis and allergies and I know from all the coughing, wheezing and sore throats and dripping noses around me, I’m far from the only one. The number of electric buses on our streets is minuscule and our government isn’t exerting pressure for the early retirement of old fleets. But that budget windfall could instantly improve the air and the health of many, myself included, by ensuring bus firms go fully electric.

Unpolluted air is only part of the problem. I recently visited the Fujian province city of Xiamen and encountered the cleanest and most orderly streets of anywhere I’ve been in China. Even the dingiest back alley sparkled; unlike in our city, not a rat or mouse is to be seen. Trees, bushes and grass thrive and flowers brighten up roadsides; a far cry from the straggling and often dying or dead vegetation on offer here. Buildings are well maintained and kept freshly painted. Why not spend a proportion of our largesse on making Hong Kong more presentable, liveable and, dare I say, even hospitable?

On that Fujian trip, I ventured into a far-flung rural area and encountered garbage collection, backwards China style. Rubbish was left in foul-smelling piles beside roads and was collected by a truck with a shovel-wielding workman. It reminded me of the process in the building I live in and many others like it that don’t have centralised collection; bags are piled onto trolleys each night and dumped on the roadside until collected during the night. Two decades after former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa gave his “green” policy address, we’ve barely moved an inch on recycling, being less wasteful and more responsible towards our environment.

Authorities have known about high housing prices for years. Poverty levels have been creeping up under their noses. Land is as in short supply now as it was last century. Making good jobs for the young available will take time, as will putting in place a genuine pension scheme. All of these matters require huge amounts of investment and years to fix. So, Mr Chan, why not make me happy by picking some of the low-hanging fruit with your spare cash?

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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Xi Jinping as president beyond 2023 may be good for China – though the West won’t believe it

CommentInsight & Opinion
2018-02-27

Tom Plate says China’s move to scrap the presidential term limit cannot be seen purely in black and white terms. Strongman leadership is not reviled in Asia the way it is in the West, and an argument could be made to challenge America’s own belief in presidential term limits

And so the Communist Party of China recommends to the National People’s Congress the removal of China’s rough equivalent of America’s 22nd amendment – two terms at most for the top leader. Anyone who didn’t see this “surprise” coming needs to have her or his China-watcher eyeglass prescription carefully re-examined. Now the way is paved for a long march by incumbent President Xi Jinping, conceivably for as long as he can stand the difficult job of being No 1 for 1.4 billion people, and for as long as – in some sense – the Chinese people can be happy with the notion of him continuing to do it.

Naturally, the reaction in America is already climbing towards the semi-hysterical. A law professor at the respected Fordham University in New York termed the move nothing less than a new step “in the continuing breakdown of political norms that had sway in China’s reform era”.

The widely admired Susan Shirk, at the University of California, San Diego, takes the dim view that “the risk of policy misjudgments is greater than it has been under any other leader since Mao died”. Concludes Professor Shirk, who in the late 1990s served honourably and well as the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of worrying about China, Hong Kong and Taiwan: “Xi is now unfettered. He owns the entire policy process.”

Maybe. What we know for sure about this move is that, one, Xi wanted the term limits axed and, two, no one who might not have wanted it was strong enough to stand up against him.

What we don’t know, though, is a much longer list, and this includes whether in fact this will prove such a terrible idea, or even whether by 2023, when the end of his second term would have ticked to an end, Xi will still have enough steel in his stomach to soldier on, not to mention the Olympian will deemed to keep enemies at bay, his age notwithstanding.

So the more positive question that might be asked in the West is whether continuity of leadership by personality will hold China back, as Mao Zedong’s long run did, and at the same time threaten the West and its friends in Asia? Or will there be value for China and the world to keeping one man at the top?

In Asia, to generalise, the ideological evil of authoritarianism is not universally accepted. Consider: without the late General Suharto, with all his many faults, a nation left behind as recklessly as Indonesia [9] was by the Dutch when they scampered back to their dykes could not possibly have been held together except by authoritarian will – whether of the left or the right.

And, over the decades, neither Singapore nor even Malaysia seemed to have been crippled by strong-armed leaders. Indeed, Singapore’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, left behind a country that is a contemporary gold standard for governance. And even today, some in Malaysia like the idea of strong-minded Dr Mahathir Mohamad, now 92, returning to power.

Here in America, an axiomatic belief in the superiority of our democratic system is not at an all-time high. This is not entirely due to the burlesque of a government laid before our eyes daily by Donald Trump, who, unlike Xi, did not pay his learning dues at lower levels of government. Rather, it is also because of the growing sense that what may have worked well in the past may not work, even for America, as well in the future; and, in addition, for the foreseeable future, democracy of whatever kind might never work magically in many places elsewhere.

What’s more, America’s belief in the redemptive value of term limits merits further examination. In some political jurisdictions, it has helped bring in new blood; but, in others, it has replaced seasoned leaders with fresh nonsensical amateurs, to the detriment of good governance.

Indeed, in the 20th century, most assessments of presidential performance would place Franklin D. Roosevelt, our 32nd president, at the top of the list. He was elected not just to three terms but four. In 1951, the 22nd amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, which seemed like a good idea at the time; and perhaps even more so now. But there were moments in-between when America had its doubts about the constitutional dogmatism of having to force someone out of office who was doing the job well.

Xi may stay well beyond 2023 or leave exactly then. Now the choice is his to make. He will be judged not by how long he stays but by how well China does while he is at the top.

China as a civilisation and nation has more staying power than any one man. The quality of the leader is undoubtedly one main factor – but it is only one. Former president Jiang Zemin had as his No 2 the amazingly capable Zhu Rongji: would as much have been done without him?

No-term-limits Xi is said to be bringing back as vice-president his anti-corruption tsar Wang Qishan. The former Beijing mayor has moved over to the National People’s Congress and, gossip has it, is waiting for the next green light upwards. Presumably, if Xi wants him as his vice-president, then that is what he will become.

Why is it that the West will always respond to any political event in China with all the enthusiasm of a funeral director? Has China achieved nothing in past decades that merits approval?

Who really knows how this will turn out? Conceivably, Xi could prove the very model of an anti-Mao and China’s development will proceed apace with improving government.

Columnist Tom Plate, author of Yo-Yo Diplomacy and the Giants of Asia series, is Loyola Marymount University’s Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Affairs, and vice-president at Pacific Century Institute